from Fair GroundsFair Grounds in New Orleans will kick off its 130th season Thanksgiving Day with daily average purses of more than $270,000 a day. The 89-day meet will run through March 25 and feature 60 stakes headlined by the $750,000 Louisiana Derby, a grade II event set for March 10."The increase in purses is directly related to the success we've had here the last two years," Fair Grounds director of racing Mervin Muniz said. "But it's also the little things. We have two of the best surfaces for horses with our main track and turf course, and trainers are not afraid to put their best horses out here on our track."For the second year in a row, the "Great Post Challenge" carries a $1-million bonus to a horse that wins both the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby. "We really believe with the scheduling and money, the Louisiana Derby is considered one of the top preps for the Kentucky Derby," Muniz said. The 60-event stakes schedule is worth a record $7.1 million in purses. Three major stakes, two of them graded events, will feature purse increases in 2002. The grade III Silverbulletday Stakes and the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 16 and 17, respectively, will each go for $150,000 this season, up 20% from 2001. The grade II Explosive Bid Handicap March 24 will offer a $700,000 purse this year, nearly 17% more than this year.Fair Grounds will also host the 11th annual $1 million Louisiana Champions Day Dec. 8. Steve Asmussen and Tom Amoss will battle again for the trainer's title, which ended in a tie last year. Each trainer bagged 54 wins. Some new faces are trainer Todd Pletcher, who saddled More Than Ready to a second-place finish in the 2000 Louisiana Derby; William Badgett Jr.; Richard Dutrow; Richard Lundy; and David Vance. Carl Nafzger has returned to Fair Grounds with a string of horses. Other trainers who figure prominently are two-time leading trainer Al Stall Jr., Dallas Stewart, Keith Bourgeois, Dale Angelle, Bobby Barnett, Mike Stidham, Mike Pino, and Ronny Werner. The jockey colony will be headed by Robby Albarado, Eddie Martin Jr., Curt Bourque, Gerard Melancon, and the twin tandem of Lonnie and Donnie Meche. Willie Martinez is expected to return to Fair Grounds for the winter after having spent last year in Florida. Racing will be held on a Thursday-through-Monday schedule. First post is 12:30 p.m. CST.